LUKE ROLFES: Showbiz Pizza in the Late 1980s

Flash Fiction by Luke Rolfes

Spectacular Regular  

The disturbed man crests on the blue, iron bridge. He’s unloading rounds at passing cars. Active, they call him, though he is standing still, not aiming. He squeezes the trigger, shakes his head, and then squeezes. Again and again. Leavenworth, Kansas on the near bank. A military base facing a prison described as The Hot House. On the far side, sloped Loess Hills. The broadleaved outskirts of Weston Bend State Park. Clouds fast-moving overhead.  Underfoot, the heavy current of the Missouri River. Cobwebs on the bridge. The cars stick in the strands. The cars break free. The spiders are everywhere. An infestation, . Dangling from the truss. And then a vehicle. Too close to be real. Too close to be. For a moment, man and vehicle become one object. And then: spinning tops. A dreidel on an oak table. Silver tornadoes. A maelstrom catching ships with giant sails. Quicksand hardening in the sun. A face on the bridge. Blinking up.  

There are cities that never burn, and leaves that bob slowly on the ocean surf. There is blond sand that one can sink their feet into, ankle deep, and purple mountains in the backdrop.  Ski towns and log cabins. Curfews nonexistent. Simmering in the hot tub—witnessed by a million stars—a hand reaches into the snow. Underneath the cold, a neck of sparkling wine. In this place, every time someone falls in love is the first and last time. Ears ring. Strangers burst firecrackers. As night falls, the pavement grows cold. But it’s never cold here. And it’s never night.  And the spiders—always the perfect soldiers—march in single file. They are huge and unimaginable.  

Ball Pit  

You and I have traveled back in time, friends. It’s Showbiz Pizza in the late 1980’s. Richard Marx plays over the house speakers. Denim shirts and neon, neon, neon. On stage, Billy Bob the mechanical bear is on the fritz. In a roached-out, striped apron, he laughs hysterically in a robotic squeal. One eye hangs from a spring, bouncing and swaying next to his bear snout.  

From all angles and directions, arcade games pulsate MIDI sounds. We absorb the music into our skin. I stand behind you, left hand on your shoulder, right fingers splayed between the circular buttons and ball-on-a-stick controller of player two. Your ninja character, dressed in blue, is surrounded by foes. One by one you cut them down, and then you flip-jump from a higher rooftop toward a lower balcony. But you short the jump, and your ninja falls to his doom. The screen fades. A countdown appears, from ten. The bad guys have our hero strapped to a table in some backwoods shed. Behind him, they stand in a semi-circle, mouths agape in wicked smiles.  

Each passing second, a spinning circular saw descends through the middle of the screen.  

“Continue?” the game urges. We are both out of quarters. You look at me and say, “Fuck.” The word is drowned out in the electronic din, but it exists in the three feet between your lips and my ears.  

Later, you pull me by the sleeve into the monstrous ball pit. The epicenter of the night. Inside the nets, a turf war rages. Colorful orbs flying in every direction. Soft and weightless as dinner rolls. Nothing hurts in here. We give ourselves to the pit in terrible ways and always survive.

Your face emerges from the kaleidoscope—a talking, severed head. “There’s a dead girl at the bottom,” you say. “I dare you to swim down and kiss her eyelids.”   

Your grin is wide, and there are gaps between three of your teeth. I don’t believe you, but I like your smile. I will follow a born liar anywhere. We both dive into the depths of the pit, tunneling our way downward through the multi-colored balls. Underneath, it is warm and difficult to breathe. We must be ten feet down. Maybe 100.  

You reach the bottom of the pit before I do. The dead girl is there, as you promised, but she isn’t a child. More a woman. A dead woman with long, stringy hair and gray skin, and she’s holding you against her body as if you are her baby. Between so many colorful circles, you are frozen in time. I am also stuck. Unable to go deeper, unable to pull you away. How can I see you, I wonder, in the darkness? How can the light reach through so many layers? How long can we last down there, in the bottom of the pit?  

Afterwards, we sit at the long table, eating pizza. I keep staring at you. Unflappable and unfazed. No pizza touches your lips, but you drink an entire pitcher of soda. “Rashad,” I say. “Why won’t you eat anything?” You tell me you’ve never been thirstier in your life. When you say it, your voice sounds like the voice of someone pretending to be you.    

Kingdom of Teeth and Scales  

They live around us. Everywhere there is water or tall grass. Forest-green scales. A snout. An eyeball. A blast of warm breath. And then a mouthful of teeth coming at you. These creatures survived what all other dinosaurs could not. Through asteroid collision and epic forest fire and ice age. Through every volcano on the planet shooting its top six miles into the air. Pterodactyl bodies falling from the sky like wet leaves. Supine T-rexes spinning in the dirt with their strong legs, unable to get up with their pathetic, baby arms. Brontosauruses, their backs and tails on fire, munching stupidly on leaves—the sensation of burning not able to jump synapses between tail and brain fast enough to save a life. All else died, but the alligator lived on. From New Orleans to Baton Rouge—from Texas to Florida. Gatorworld USA. Kingdom of teeth and scales. The last of the terrible lizards.  

People know you as the Cajun girl, though you are only half Cajun. You speak French, sometimes, but only do so when you’re drinking. People find that charming about you. Your thick bangs and eyes that sit just deep enough within your face to appear sad.  

Late at night, you stand next to a wiry high school boy. He has platinum hair on his head and pretends not to be afraid of the silent creature at the edge of the water. The gator stares at you and your friends, lids unblinking. “Watch this,” the high school boy says to the group. And he nods in your direction. He is a little bit cute and a little bit Family Circus. You might want to kiss him later, you think. But your thoughts are interrupted by the screaming.

The creature has the high school boy by the arm, pulling him toward the river. For a moment, it looks like it is going to drag him back to its lair. But then the gator spins, and the high school boy falls backward. The alligator retreats, sinking inch by inch into the dark water. The boy, in shock, is spread eagle on the ground. His left arm ends unnaturally in the weeds. A surreal swirl of green and red. The group surrounds him with hands on their faces.   

Luke Rolfes’ book Flyover Country won the Georgetown Review Press Fiction Collection Contest and his second book (forthcoming) won the Acacia Fiction Prize from Kallisto Gaia Press. His manuscripts have been shortlisted for the Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Spokane Prize, The Flannery O’Connor Award, Pressgang Press Award, The Serena McDonald Kennedy Award, New American Fiction Prize, and The Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction. He teaches creative writing at Northwest Missouri State University, edits The Laurel Review, and serves as a mentor in the AWP Writer to Writer Program.

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner Photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

George Wallace is a poet, professor and freelance editor living and working in NYC. Writer in residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace since 2011, he is author of over 3 dozen books of poetry and editor/co-editor of such fine literary publications as Poetrybay, Great Weather for Media, Polarity, Flash Boulevard, Long Island Quarterly and Walt's Corner. George travels internationally to perform his poetry, and his many honors include the Naim Frasheri Prize (Tetova Poetry Festival), Orpheus Prize (Plovdiv Poetry Festival), National Beat Laureate (Beat Poetry Festival), Suffolk County Poet Laureate, CW Post Poetry Prize; and the Alexander Medal, from UNESCO/Greece, for his contribution to the arts.

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